Build your company with a 100 year mindset
There’s this phenomena of flipping that’s increasingly popular in startup culture. It means to buy or sell something to quickly make a profit. Much like fast food, it tastes good for the short term and draws investors and entrepreneurs alike to an imagined gold rush.
Recently, I found myself chatting over a long conference table with an investor who explained how e-commerce companies were demanding high valuations and getting them. As I understood it, the main justification for a certain valuation seemed to be a potentially higher valuation that would allow the investor to exit. In another gathering, I was advised to “grab money when the market is ready to give and flip”. Ahem.
If you observe, we seem to be in a societal shift towards fast-everything from food to wealth creation. Of course that’s a great thing unless we put the cart before the horse - in this case, imagining the money before defining the product. Growth through valuation is an outcome and must not be confused with the real task of building organizations. Companies are built because they can create something of value or provide a service that’s of value to someone. It’s only recently that there are more people starting up in the pursuit of imagined monetary value that in reality, if you really think about it, is no value at all.
As entrepreneurs and investors, we have a moral imperative to pause and reflect on our underlying reasons at every growth juncture. We live in highly disruptive times where advances in science and technology are riding peaks of exponential growth. This opportunity must be put to meaningful use to solve the larger problems of our times. That would generate true value.
We need to build companies with a 100 year mindset that can impact multiple generations. If buying and selling happens along the way to result in larger, meaningful growth then by all means we must pursue it. For example, 200 year old Citigroup evolved through the amalgamation of several firms. But it also changed the financial industry as we know it.
Our decisions would have greater sustained impact if we have the courage to ignore near-term whims of the market. In its initial years, Amazon routinely took the pressures of reporting losses while investing in research and technology. Without worrying about disrupting its status as a market darling, Google spends on gutsy ventures such as the driverless car that only have a tangential link to its core search business. Paul Polman challenged status quo of Unilever, a more traditional company than Google by canceling quarterly reporting when he took over as CEO.
At my company, we made the decision a few years ago to build a cloud/mobile electronic health record platform, which by any measure was a complex undertaking. We were warned by advisors that as a services company we were better off outsourcing product development. But we ignored all warnings and taught ourselves to design and deliver software products, which we knew was strategically important to make a dent in the industry. We spent more time and money than we anticipated and went through financial difficulties. In the end, we came out strong by building an advanced software platform with multiple certifications that’s now rolling out globally. And that became the right story.
Taking advantage of clients in trouble, closing doors on employees who exit, shortchanging vendors, finding the exit door when the company’s in trouble, ignoring communities we work in are some symptoms of short-term thinking. On the contrary, when you build organizations with a 100 year mindset, you are compelled to look beyond time and your immediate needs. You automatically assume a wider responsibility that in turn reinforces the sustenance and growth of your organization.
As entrepreneurs, you will face flak for going against the grain in a world of quick results. But you must.